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ScreamingViking Sep 20, 2021 8:50 PM

Electric City architecture
Here's an interesting column from today's Spec, about the hydro substations around town that were made to look like houses and buildings that "fit" their neighbourhoods.

Anyone who knows Hamilton well is probably aware of a few. I know of one near my current home, another in the east end not far from where I grew up, a couple of others... but there are some listed in this article that are new to me. And the city's electrification is the reason Nikola Tesla's name now adorns the elevated sections of Burlington St. that provide speedier access to our industrial North End.

The architectural legacy of the ‘Electric City’

Mark McNeil
The Hamilton Spectator
Mon., Sept. 20, 2021

From an architectural point of view, the buildings had a clear objective.

They were supposed to blend into neighbourhoods, to discreetly be part of the city’s electrical grid.

Welcome to the world of hydro substations. They are houses where people don’t live; buildings lacking in interior design or furnishings. You probably won’t find a stove to cook dinner, but you could definitely fry something with all the wiring and electrical equipment.

There are dozens of them across the city, usually camouflaged to look like houses or other buildings. They are charged with the responsibility of transforming high voltages into lower dosages that can be used by homes and businesses around them.

Electrical infrastructure is the subject of a fascinating photographic exhibition at the Cotton Factory on Sherman Avenue North that finds noteworthy architecture and historical relevance in hydro substations.

It’s a collaboration between architect Chris Harrison, photographer Francis Fougere and architectural historian Megan Hobson.

While substations were meant to be low-profile, designers over the years — especially before the 1950s — couldn’t resist adding some architectural flourishes to spice things up.

But more interesting, the “Power of Design: The Rich Architectural Legacy of The Electric City” show opens a door into an understanding of how the early adoption of hydro electricity back in the late 1890s forever shaped the destiny of the city.

Hamilton became known as the “Electric City,” for trailblazing a power distribution system that fostered industrialization through the early decades of the 1900s. A bunch of entrepreneurs known as the “five Johns” — John Dickenson, John Morison Gibson, John Moodie, Sir John Patterson and John Sutherland — formed the Cataract Power Company.

In 1898, using long distance transmission technology developed by Nikola Tesla, the company managed to bring power a distance 56 kilometres to Hamilton from a hydroelectric power generating station at Decew Falls on the Welland Canal.

It meant that Hamilton had the cheapest and most reliable supply of electricity in the country. The development, along with a multimodal transportation network and safe drinking water, helped transform the city into an industrial powerhouse.

The population swelled because of jobs that were created, leading to an expansion of housing that would also be served by hydro electricity.

That was managed at first by Cataract, but in 1911 a competing, municipally owned hydro electric system formed that would eventually take over Cataract assets in 1930.

Through it all, a network of substations evolved. And today, the legacy is spread throughout the city.


full story here

Main St. W at Stroud:

King E. at Spadina:

Dundurn N.

Cataract Power Company on Victoria N. -- I've always believed that this is a former factory!

I've always loved the Hamilton Hydro building on John St. She's a beaut. :tup:

King&James Sep 20, 2021 9:45 PM

here is one on Aberdeen...!8i8192

StEC Sep 20, 2021 10:46 PM

I always loved this one on Kenilworth Ave South & Central Ave!8i8192

StEC Sep 20, 2021 10:48 PM


Originally Posted by King&James (Post 9401975)

WOW they used the exact same house for the one I posted above lol.... so cool! I wonder how many more of these exact houses there are around town that are really a sub station?

ShavedParmesanCheese Sep 20, 2021 11:38 PM

Oh there's plenty. My grandpa worked at the hydro for 50 years, he has a poster at home with all the substations, many houses. Funny thing about that house - I was able to figure out where one of my high school teachers lived based on how identical those 2 houses are. :haha:

Have you seen how they've been bricking up some of the substation windows recently? It's depressing. Especially how they ruined the one at the corner of King & Parkdale :(

Innsertnamehere Sep 20, 2021 11:44 PM

The Powerhouse restaurant in Stoney Creek is the old electrical substation for the Radial Railway (streetcar) that used to run on Highway 8 to St Catherines.

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